Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Thinking back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Gustav and the anniversary of the destruction and criminal neglect of the people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had me thinking back. Katrina hit before I left home in Chicago to go back to school for the year, and the aftermath continued as I settled in on campus. One of my professors remarked that people "feel like the world is ending" with all of the recent events - Katrina, the tsunami in late 2004, even going back to September 11th.

I didn't share that sense of terror or a strong connection to events like the tsunami or September 11th (especially not September 11th, which did not seem any more tragic to me than the tens of thousands of people that die every year in the U.S. from lack of access to healthcare and other forms of violence the media is not interested in). Yes, sadness that so many were dying, frustration and disgust with the responses of people and structures that could have helped prevent tragedies of such scale or responded better, and dizziness from just trying to understand the sheer numbers of deaths, which my brain couldn't even compute. But not a sense of terror or grief that shook me to the core.

Katrina was different.

I was watching TV with my mom, and suddenly I found myself sobbing. The camera had just showed a young black woman crying and screaming that she was diabetic and she needed insulin and that she was going to die if they didn't get some insulin to her. It just got me - I reacted before I had even thought about it. It made me so upset and scared and incredulous and disgusted. It was just so wrong and so upsetting, and I did not understand how anyone or any structure could do that (deprive someone who is insulin dependent of their insulin) to another person.

Once I thought about it, I got enraged at everyone, the government especially but even all the way down to the news crew. If they had those resources (electricity and transportation and contacts and enough expensive equipment to get on national TV), how could they stand there fucking taping her screaming for her insulin and not get her some? This was not the first day after the hurricane hit either, I think it was at least day 3.

But what got me on such an immediate, visceral level was clearly the type 1 diabetes. And probably some element of seeing myself in that woman. Although I know on a rational level that my chances of being in that situation, as a wealthy white person with connections (in healthcare), are almost non-existant, it struck me. Maybe poked past some of the filters that structural racism has taught me to look through and the mainstream media perpetuates? Or perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, I don't usually watch a lot of TV and so don't see all of the gruesome visuals on some disasters.

It also seemed much more urgent and close and part of my life because it was closer and happening in my country, a system that I am more directly part of. It was crude injustice: racism, classism and poverty laid out in such a raw, visible way. Ignoring or moving at a snail's pace to help people that are dying, in a way that just showed how little regard most of the people in power had for their lives. That stuff exists here all the time, but it was magnified and made more visible by the hurricane.

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